Benevolence Porn

Not An Angry Deaf Person
2 min readAug 22, 2022

[Image description: bald man with a soft fuzzy head, short thin beard, gray t-shirt signing against a light gray background.]

Stella Young introduced us to inspiration porn. Inspiration porn objectifies disabled people by framing them as inspirational for simply living their lives; often doing mundane activities. A disabled person’s mere existence receives adulation and celebration while structural and systemic barriers for disabled people are elided.

I suggest that we consider benevolence porn as a means of distinguishing media attention that centers the abled person rather than the disabled person. The abled person is framed as a benevolent actor, celebrated for their extraordinary kindness and willingness to “include” disabled people.

Think of those “heartwarming” stories about the kids with Downs syndrome or cerebral palsy being “allowed” to play a down of a football game or the final minute in a hockey game so that the abled people are portrayed as inclusive and kind(in no small irony, neither video is captioned). From my position as a deafdisabled person, signed language interpreters are portrayed as benevolent helpers rather than as paid entities present to provide access.

This framing, too, elides structural and systemic barriers for disabled people. In benevolence porn, the disabled person’s perspective is ignored, our experiences, wants, and needs relegated to the background. Disabled people’s autonomy and agency is ignored when the conversation is centered on making abled people feel good by focusing on individual acts of kindness rather than question why such acts of kindness were spotlighted (think structural, systemic, and attitudinal barriers). In both inspiration porn and benevolence porn, disabled people are framed as objects of pity through the abled gaze.

Benevolence porn fuels the idea that accessibility isn’t a right but a privilege. For example, Kevin Gallagher and the Seattle Men’s Chorus. The blog offers all the nitty-gritty details. In short, Kevin “interpreted” for the Chorus for 20 years. Deaf attendees did not understand him and lobbied over two decades to have him replaced with someone who could do what his job was to do: provide access. But Kevin was retained because A) despite his unintelligibility to deaf people, he was quite entertaining to hearing people. and B) he was doing a kindness (interpreting) for deaf people. When we, deaf people, point out issues with interpreting- e.g. not understanding the interpreter, we are often told something along the lines of…

How dare we bite the hand of the benevolent helper? Access should not rely upon benevolence, but be understood as a collective responsibility and as fundamental rights for disabled people.

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